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Get unstuck in your career: a case study of how to make change


By Niamh Ennis
10th Nov 0202
Get unstuck in your career: a case study of how to make change

Change and transformation coach Niamh Ennis shares how she helped one client identify what needed to change in her career, and make it happen.

As you prepare to cross over into a new year, it’s vital that you open yourself up to the possibility that perhaps what isn’t working in your life has more to do with you and less to do with others. It can simply be a little too easy to blame others, to think “if only things were different. If they were different, I would be able to change”.

Change always starts with you. It begins once you give yourself permission to think different thoughts and create different habits.

The following case study demonstrates that, and shows how my client, Gemma, was only able to detach herself from the drama of believing her career was causing her to feel stuck, when she accepted that it was her choices that had got her there. By owning her current situation, she was able to clearly see what she needed to do next.

Gemma’s* Story

When she first came to see me last February, Gemma had been feeling incredibly lost for the best part of a year, “I’m stuck in such a rut with my career. I’m just not moving anywhere and I feel extremely undervalued.” Despite having been promoted to the senior management team only 18 months previously, she was left feeling uninspired and unmotivated. She described herself as being “at a total dead end”.

Admittedly, she wasn’t altogether sure just what it was she was searching for or hoping to achieve, yet she was craving greater clarity around where she could and should go next. In the midst of the turmoil, she was certain of one thing and that was that she had no clue where to begin to change.

Gemma is my favourite kind of client – one that comes fully believing they have identified the source of their discontent, only to uncover throughout our time together, that the true challenge actually lies elsewhere, and that’s what was blocking them.

Niamh Ennis

That sense of feeling stuck leaves us feeling helpless and powerless. It forces us to retreat into a space where our confidence takes a nosedive and our self-belief fades; where we are totally unable to identify the possible solutions or the building blocks that will help get us out of there.

So, to begin, I got Gemma to answer this – “what is it you want”? Not what she thought others wanted for her, or expected of her, but what when it was all stripped back, what was it that she wanted for herself; from her career, her relationships, her health, her life? Put another way, I got her to consider “what, if you had no fear, and there were no obstacles, would you want for your life?”

Knowing what you really want

What followed was eye opening for her – she discovered that she actually didn’t know.

She had some stock answers to hand about what she was used to saying she liked… yet as she went through them, she slowly realised that the answers she was giving weren’t even her own answers; they weren’t coming from inside her heart but were in fact coming directly from her mind. She was doing what so many of us do, she was reacting rather than responding. So here’s what we did together.

I shared some helpful techniques with her that gave her permission to go to the layer beneath the one we engage when we are asked a direct question.

I helped her to wait for the answers to come and to trust how they each made her feel as they landed.

I guided her towards observing the pure gold that lay within those feelings and helped her understand just what information they were trying to tell her.

What emerged, moved her beyond where she was and things slowly began to shift internally for her.

Instead of a career that demanded so much of her time, what she longed for was space to do more of what she loved.

Put another way, I got her to consider “what, if you had no fear, and there were no obstacles, would you want for your life?”

More specifically, she wanted to reconnect with her partner as she could see that recently they were really starting to drift apart; she also harboured plans of spending more time with her mum, especially since her father had died just two years earlier and crucially, she really yearned to spend more time on her own – something she hadn’t even allowed herself consider in the longest of times.

As we dived deeper into each of the individual responses, I also helped her to identify exactly what was blocking her from doing each or any of those things. They weren’t impossible but she really felt that they were for her. The common denominator to every single obstacle here was time. She believed she didn’t have enough time to devote to doing any of these things. Yet she did. What she didn’t have, and what was missing, was the courage to prioritise them. It was simply easier to avoid them by blaming her career and staying stuck in that rut.

Why do we resist change

This is exactly why so many of us resist change. We opt for where feels most familiar, we fool ourselves into believing that we are best staying where we are, settling for second best, even if (and this is the important bit) even if we know that this place is where we feel most miserable. It sounds crazy, but we do it and we do it to avoid having to make any changes.

Once Gemma saw this, what followed, were so many more realisations. Most notably when she recognised that change isn’t part of any process, it is the process; it opened her eyes up to just what was happening for her in her own life. She was forced, as a consequence, to admit that she was in fact blaming her career for the choices that she herself had made and was continuing to make every day.

She had refused to see that there could be a better way of structuring her life if she only committed to choosing them. Yet she was ready now to open her mind to accepting responsibility for these choices and if she wanted to feel differently, she acknowledged that was going to have to act differently.

All too often, we assume that change requires us to stop doing something, whereas if we reframe our thinking and see that it is about us doing more, it can change how we feel about it.

How to come unstuck

In order for Gemma to come unstuck, she needed to be really clear about what it was that she wanted and what mattered most to her, right now. Once she knew this, she was able to devise a realistic but detailed plan on the steps she needed to take to get her to where she knew now that she wanted to go.

What was truly incredible to her was that there was no need for rash decisions and no sudden dramatic walking out on her career. But neither was there that familiar feeling of hopelessness now that she had chosen what it was that she wanted to change.

She set out her intentions and carefully and very steadily implemented a step-by-step plan, at a pace that felt totally right for her. Now, almost ten months later Gemma feels in a different place. Because she is.
“It feels strange, even to me, that the answer was never in me leaving my job. I expected that it would take some dramatic drastic action. So, I was pleasantly surprised and enormously relieved to have discovered that the answer lay in me deciding what really mattered to me and choosing that!

“Once I was willing to accept personal responsibility for all of that and I was able to give myself the permission to do it, everything inside me changed. I became unstuck once I decided to stop blaming everything and everyone else.”

This is what happens when you are ready to detach from the drama, when you are ready to take responsibility and when all you want is to discover the way back home to you. This is what getting unstuck feels like.

To get your copy of Get Unstuck visit niamhennis.com/book. Read more in the Winter 2022 issue of IMAGE, on shelves now. 

*Gemma’s name has been changed in the telling of this story but all of the details remain unaltered and it is being retold here with her full permission.

Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Change & Transformation Coach and Author of Get Unstuck, who through her private practice, writings, programmes, workshops and podcast has inspired, activated and helped thousands of people to make significant changes in their lives. She is an accredited Personal, Leadership & Executive Coach and the Lead Coach in the IMAGE Business Club. Instagram @1niamhennis.